Whats The Biggest Challenge of Switching to Electric Vehicles
For a while now we have some time to adjust to the looming and much-publicised deadline of 2030. This is the year where the government’s proposed ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars will come into effect, followed by new hybrid vehicles in 2035. These two milestones effectively mark the end of the petrol-driven automotive age as OEMs will then be forced — in the UK and most of Europe, at least — to only produce electric vehicles (EVs).
Some have already made the switch to EVs, with the RAC reporting that in 2022 there are about 456,000 battery electric vehicles (BEVs – non-hybrid) on Britain’s roads, with more than 70,000 of those registrations happening in 2022 so far. So, people are already starting to migrate to electric vehicles, but is it really as easy as just trading in your petro car for an electric one? What challenges are there? We will try to answer these questions and more in today’s blog.
Individual Challenges of Switching to EVs
First, let’s look at what’s difficult about switching to an electric car from the perspective of the average consumer in the UK.
First of all, there’s simply no escaping the fact that electric vehicles are far more expensive than their petrol-driven counterparts, and even those are hardly cheap in the UK right now. Prices are high for a number of reasons, firstly because producing electric cars is expensive because their lithium-ion batteries are complex, powerful, heavy and contain numerous hard-to-get raw materials (more on that further below).
EVs are also more expensive now because they are relatively new, with very few used options, unlike the petrol and diesel market where you can pick up an old car to use for a teenager’s first car, for instance for well under £1500. Brand-new cars in the affordable spectrum tend to start at around £10,000-12,000. Apply that to EVs, however, and your starting rate goes up to around £30,000. What’s more, government subsidies for EVs are being cut, meaning more and more of the price has to be shouldered by consumers.
Being able to “fuel” your car at home yourself by simply plugging it in is very empowering, a real game changer in fact. No more queuing at petrol stations, right? Well, that’s sort of right, but it really depends. First of all, to charge at home, you have to live somewhere where you have a facility to install a home wall charger. The 230-volt plug-in cables that come with the cars are no longer powerful enough to quickly provide a full charge to a large-capacity EV battery.
If you can’t install your own charger, then you have to rely on public charging stations, of which there may not be enough in your area (more on that in societal challenges). Your own charger doesn’t help you, either, if you’re undertaking a long journey of more than 200 miles where you’ll certainly have to recharge on the road using a DC fast charger, which still means at least a 15-30 minute wait while you add range back into your battery.
Have you heard of “range anxiety”? It’s the fear people have of being caught out in the middle of nowhere as their EV runs out of battery, leaving them stranded. After all, you can’t just walk to a charging station and load electricity into a petrol can and walk it back to your car, can you? Right now, most of the long-range vehicles on the market — e.g. VW ID.4, Tesla, etc. — are also in the higher price bracket.
We didn’t previously worry so much about range with our petrol or diesel cars, because we always knew there was a petrol station somewhere within range. Will it be the same with EVs?
Finally, there is quite a difference in the way petrol and electric cars drive. The biggest and perhaps most challenging difference for some is the instant torque created by EVs. We’re so used to the more gradual acceleration of our petro cars, the sudden jump of EVs can be quite unsettling to first-time drivers. Furthermore, the maintenance schedule also changes, as does the style of gearbox, plus EVs rely far more on computer-based technology for their system updates and settings.
Societal Challenges of Switching to EVs
Next, let’s study more closely the challenges that we face as a broader society when looking at making the switch to EVs.
Raw Materials and Production
Many of the raw materials needed for EVs are difficult to mine, which is part of the reason that they’re so expensive. To produce even one unit takes a lot of advanced industry, and a very complex supply chain. Getting lithium and cobalt is a particular struggle, but also essential for battery production. Even the relatively simple semiconductors required are in short supply these days because of the effects of the global pandemic on supply chains.
Furthermore, if the UK’s car industry is going to switch to EV production, then it will also mean OEMs investing more to convert their plants and production lines into EV-friendly spaces. It can be done and is already happening, but it’s still a large undertaking.
Another major concern for the nation concerns the amount of power that will be in demand from the National Grid should millions of people all of a sudden be plugging cars in every night at around the same time. The National Grid in the UK famously has to bring in emergency power supplies to handle the kettle-activating surge that occurs at the end of each soap opera episode, so will the grid be able to cope with countless commuters all plugging in between 6:00 and 7:00pm as they return home from work?
As we mentioned further above, there are still many questions people have about whether the UK will even be ready to meet the charging needs of the EV-driving nation by 2030. According to Zap-map.com, there has been significant progress made. As of April 2022, there are 31,507 public charging devices in the UK offering 52,804 connectors across more than 19,000 locations. This apparently represents a 35 percent increase on the numbers from April 2021.
Of most concern to many is the availability of fast-charging systems that will allow those undertaking longer journeys to get back on the road faster. Availability of public charging infrastructure in rural areas is also a concern.
Verdict: Which Challenge is Biggest?
On the individual level, it’s hard to deny that the price of EVs is the greatest problem UK consumers face. At the time of writing, the country is facing a cost of living crisis with inflation rates hitting levels not previously seen since the dark, crisis-filled days of the 1970s. This will certainly reduce people’s appetite for spending on EVs, not to mention erode support for government-mandated switching to EVs.
For society, while charging infrastructure seems the obvious candidate as the biggest problem, the UK has proven fairly adept among Western nations at improving coverage, with local councils and central government all pitching in to make it happen. Therefore, the biggest challenge has to be that of the natural resources question. While lithium mined in Cornwall might ease some of the supply woes, it’s only one of many required components. If supply chain problems persist, then switching to EVs might be impossible since there won’t be any units rolling off the production lines!